In the Tai Ji Men case, truth and justice will one day prevail. We should strengthen our minds, keep our hearts pure, and learn selfless true love.
by Li Ting-Yu*
*A paper presented at the session “Tai Ji Men’s Journey: A Fight for Conscience and Justice” of the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions, Chicago, August 15, 2023.
I am Athena Li, and I graduated from Taipei Medical University last year. On the eve of my graduation, from late May to early July 2022, I traveled to Sweden with the Tai Ji Men Cultural Goodwill Group to participate in the United Nations Stockholm+50 Conference on the Environment. I went on to attend the 25th Eurasia Economic and Trade Summit in Turkey, and the Second International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C., and also traveled to Lucknow, India, to participate in the International Conference of Chief Justices of the World in November, to promote a culture of love, peace and conscience.
To date, my Shifu (Grand Master), Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, has led his dizi (disciples) to visit more than 300 cities in 101 countries, with more than 3,000 cultural performances at home and abroad attended by more than 200,000 participants.
After visiting many countries, I realized that, regardless of where they are from, people have the same common wish: they hope there will be no war! At Union Station in Washington, D.C., I invited a grandmother to sign the Declaration for the Movement of an Era of Conscience. She said that she had Scottish, German, and Ukrainian blood, and that her mother was Ukrainian. When she said this, her eyes, which were originally clear, instantly became full of tears. Although we had never met before, we felt like family members who had not seen each other for a long time; we embraced each other and cried.
The cultural exchange activities organized by Tai Ji Men for promoting love and peace internationally have received strong support from heads of state and leaders from all walks of life, and the results are clear for all to see.
Stockholm+50, convened by the United Nations General Assembly, took place on June 2–3, 2022, under the theme “A Healthy Planet for the Prosperity of All—Our Responsibility, Our Opportunity.” The year 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCEN), held in Stockholm in 1972, which was the first global conference focusing on ecology. In response to this meaningful conference and to bless the world and the environment, Tai Ji Men, in collaboration with the Federation of World Peace and Love and the United Nations ECOSOC-accredited NGO Association of World Citizens (AWC), organized several Ceremonies of Ringing the Bell of World Peace and Love in Stockholm from June 1 to 3, as well as a hybrid physical and online Stockholm+50 related event.
During the conference, Dr. Aldo Manos, the 89-year-old former Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), also rang the Bell. He said, “I know that peace is the most important goal we have, but we also know that it is the most difficult one, so it requires all our commitment, energy and conviction, and I am very honored to have been invited here today.” “Conscience is the essence of environmental protection,” he emphasized. He was a veteran of the world’s first Earth Summit 50 years ago and had now been invited back to Sweden for Stockholm+50. He encouraged young people to return to Stockholm+100 in 2072. I was touched by the feeling of passing on the torch in the present.
Since I was a child, I have studied the wisdom of Tai Ji and Yin and Yang philosophy with my Shifu, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, and have traveled to many countries. I realize that, for me, the greatest joy and value in my life is to have a strong, courageous and compassionate heart as a martial arts practitioner, and to do my best to protect what I love and what is right, as long as I have a life to live. Similarly, peace is not something that can be achieved by one person alone. Rather, it is a matter of each individual reflecting thoroughly on his or her own inner self, exercising good influence, making the right decisions, and starting a positive cycle to change the world around us, which is the key to protecting human rights, freedom, and democracy.
However, as other speakers in this panel explained, in Taiwan, we are confronted with a 27-year-long persecution and harassment through taxes. On August 21, 2020, I was there when land reserved for a Tai Ji Men’s cultivation and educational site in Miaoli was auctioned off by the National Taxation Bureau in conjunction with the Administrative Enforcement Agency and confiscated outright.
In addition to what other speakers have already reported, I want to emphasize that this piece of land is of great significance to all Tai Ji Men dizi. It is the sacred mountain that our Shifu, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, spent many years of hard work to identify. It is irreplaceable. It is a place for Tai Ji Men Shifu and dizi to cultivate their spirituality and propagate their teachings, which are rooted in esoteric Taoism although open to practitioners of all religions. The land qualifies as one set aside as a place of worship, and as such should not be the object of seizure and auction according to the United Nations General Comment No.22 to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This was unfortunately ignored by Taiwanese authorities.
Coming to my personal experience, from the time I heard that the land was about to be illegally auctioned, I demonstrated in front of the Administrative Enforcement Agency and the Ministry of Finance every day for two months, regardless of the wind, the sun, the rain and the heat of 36 degrees Celsius. We kept on shouting, demanding that the government officials stop the ridiculous illegal auctions.
During this period of time, even though I wanted to cry every day when I opened my eyes, the strength that sustained me was the suffering of the many victims of Taiwan’s dysfunctional tax system, the faces of the people who rolled down their car windows and gave us thumbs up to cheer us on in every scene, the presence of my Shifu who was obviously a very busy person but was always there to guide and encourage us. The wisdom of the Yin and Yang philosophy, which my Shifu taught me from very young age, enabled me to distinguish right from wrong, love my country, cherish the Shifu-Dizi (similar to master-disciple) relationship and freedom of belief.
The 27 years of human rights persecution have been a torment and a pain for every Tai Ji Men dizi. However, as the lyrics of our song “We Can Change the World” say, “Just a little more of love, just a little more of hope, just a little more of care and share. Then the world will come as one!” I believe that, as long as we keep working hard, when all people follow the guidance of their conscience there will be no more persecution and our problems will be solved. The more people of conscience are united, the more the power of good will triumph over darkness.